Why don't people relax?
Most people don’t know how to relax and be themselves in front of a camera. Which makes sense, unless you are a model or celebrity, it is not an environment most of us find ourselves in very often.
Plus we have been taught all these rules about pictures from the time we were little. “Stand up straight!” “Make sure your clothes aren’t bunched” “Don’t fidget” “STAND STILL!” “Now SMIIIIIIIILE”
I almost had a panic attack just writing that.
So What Can I Do?
First and foremost you have to relax yourself.
I assume you are taking these pictures because you like taking pictures, and maybe even like the people you are taking pictures of. So relax. Be yourself. Remember this is fun.
The second thing that I do is to “break the record.”
Those of us old enough to remember vinyl records also remember that if you scratched it, sometimes it would cause the needle to jump back and repeat the last few seconds. Over and Over and Over and Over.
That is what our brains do when they are trying to remember a whole bunch of rule (like the ones above) in a stressful situation. It just keeps running down the list, looking for the mistake. And each time through the loop it reinforces the tension more and more.
It is my job, as the photographer, to break that loop. I use all kinds of methods to get people to think about something else. Ask them about a hobby. Find out why they went into the job they have.
I have even been known to ask nonsense questions.
I have not yet been reduced to the tricks I have seen animal photographers use of squeaking or throwing a chew toy.
But you can be sure I have one in my bag.